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Chinese Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market: Effects of Post-Tiananmen Immigration Policy


  • Pia Orrenius
  • Madeline Zavodny
  • Emily Kerr


The Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and ensuing government crackdown affected Chinese nationals not only at home but around the world. The U.S. government responded to the events in China by enacting multiple measures to protect Chinese nationals present in the U.S. It first suspended all forced departures among Chinese nationals present in the country as of June 1989 and later gave them authorization to work legally. The Chinese Student Protection Act, passed in October 1992, made those Chinese nationals eligible for lawful permanent resident status. These actions applied to about 80,000 Chinese nationals residing in the U.S. on student or other temporary visas or illegally. Receiving permission to work legally and then a green card is likely to have affected recipients' labor market outcomes. This study uses 1990 and 2000 census data to examine employment and earnings among Chinese immigrants who were likely beneficiaries of the U.S. government's actions. Relative to immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea – countries not covered by the post-Tiananmen immigration policy measures – highly-educated immigrants from mainland China experienced significant employment and earnings gains during the 1990s. Chinese immigrants who arrived in the U.S in time to benefit from the measures also had higher relative earnings in 2000 than Chinese immigrants who arrived too late to benefit. The results suggest that getting legal work status and then a green card has a significant positive effect on skilled migrants' labor market outcomes.
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Suggested Citation

  • Pia Orrenius & Madeline Zavodny & Emily Kerr, 2012. "Chinese Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market: Effects of Post-Tiananmen Immigration Policy," International Migration Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(2), pages 456-482, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:intmig:v:46:y:2012:i:2:p:456-482
    DOI: j.1747-7379.2012.00893.x

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Neeraj Kaushal, 2006. "Amnesty Programs and the Labor Market Outcomes of Undocumented Workers," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(3).
    2. Sherrie A. Kossoudji & Deborah A. Cobb-Clark, 2002. "Coming out of the Shadows: Learning about Legal Status and Wages from the Legalized Population," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(3), pages 598-628, July.
    3. Sankar Mukhopadhyay & David Oxborrow, 2012. "The Value of an Employment-Based Green Card," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 49(1), pages 219-237, February.
    4. Xiaohuan Lan, 2012. "Permanent Visas and Temporary Jobs: Evidence from Postdoctoral Participation of Foreign PhDs in the United States," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 31(3), pages 623-640, June.
    5. Xin Meng & Robert G Gregory, "undated". "Impact of Interupted Education on Earnings: The Educational Cost of the Chinese Cultural revolution," Canadian International Labour Network Working Papers 40, McMaster University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Carlo Devillanova & Francesco Fasani & Tommaso Frattini, 2014. "Employment of Undocumented Immigrants and the Prospect of Legal Status: Evidence from an Amnesty Program," Development Working Papers 367, Centro Studi Luca d'Agliano, University of Milano, revised 26 Jun 2014.
    2. Chi, Miao & Drewianka, Scott, 2014. "How much is a green card worth? Evidence from Mexican men who marry women born in the U.S," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 103-116.
    3. Francesco Fasani, 2015. "Understanding the Role of Immigrants’ Legal Status: Evidence from Policy Experiments," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 61(3-4), pages 722-763.
    4. Ying Liang & Yingying Yi & Qiufen Sun, 2014. "The Impact of Migration on Fertility under China’s Underlying Restrictions: A Comparative Study Between Permanent and Temporary Migrants," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 116(1), pages 307-326, March.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination


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